Dragan Espenschied, Olia Lialina – Digital Folklore: To Computer Users, with Love and Respect

Dragan Espenschied

Merz Akademie, ISBN-13: 978-3937982250, Germany, 2009, English
Olga Lialina and Dragan Espenschied have invested a huge amount of time in investigating something that others have simplistically dismissed as “mundane”. They have been among the very few to understand the importance of a historic moment (the first years of the world wide web) and the birth of its “pop culture” – a history they appropriately define as “digital folklore”. Beyond the recurrent naivete of the “artifacts” discussed, there is a whole small world made of anecdotes, low-tech techniques, use and reuse/remix of icons, and popular wisdom that spans these years, which reacted to technological innovation with unexpected evolutions. It’s a precious body of work that preserves something in a similar way to how some important music scenes were discovered after being ignored for years. The “vernacular web” is the main field of research for the couple, who are working out of the Merz Akademie Interface Design in Stuttgart. At the end of the book there’s even a section with a few student works that perfectly match the topic. The perspective of the “amateur” is continuously “sampled”, giving back an acknowledged dignity to the user. This thick book also reflects this nature in its design: it includes some colored paper parts with a layout reminiscent of some rough fanzine of the nineties (layout with home computer in standard Geneva font, printed with printers and duplicated with photocopiers). It’s difficult to imagine a book like this written by somebody else (especially in this peculiar printed form), especially with such passion and painstaking research.